In 3d

A couple of short posts from Wellington-based artist Bronwyn Holloway-Smith has me revisiting my skepticism about 3d printing. I guess somewhere in the past I put it in the too hard to conceptualize basket and have only now come to to rethink that.

Ghosts in the form of gifts provides some lovely examples of using printing to recreate lost objects using images and information.

It Will Be Awesome if They Don’t Screw it Up is a short review of an article by the same name, and touches on the potential tension between people creating objects and the owners of the intellectual property behind the objects.

Someone may have mentioned it at NDF recently. We’re heading towards a world where copying things won’t just be copying a bit of music or some digital tv shows, but you’ll be able to make a 3d model of sculpture, objet d’art, or any kind of object.

And the tools for making them will only get better. Take this Te Papa record of a taha huahua (calabash). There are enough  images of it for someone, anywhere, to recreate it. What IP owners and guardians of cultural taonga will make of it remains to be seen, but right now it’s inevitability is fairly compelling.

For more on re-use, appropriation, creativity, and intellectual property, try this New York Times article, Apropos Appropriation.

Back to school: Territorial rights

Another post I made to the discussion forum for the Whitireia Diploma in Publishing.

On Territorial rights

Well, I’m not entirely clear what the big threat to local publishers is, nor even to the big ones. And if there is a problem, I think it could be worse for the big publishers who have come to rely on revenues streams by buying and selling territorial rights. Large publishers are already dominant – that’s been the case in New Zealand for years – but maybe the end of territorial rights breaks one of their strangleholds if it mean New Zealand publishers can go straight out to other markets. Learn from the French and Spanish publishers and retain world rights, as Edward Nawotka suggests.

There aren’t currently a lot of New Zealand books selling rights overseas and there’s a probably a useful enough model that could take the place of selling territorial rights. Maybe a shared rights on world sales? I’d be interested to know how much money we’re talking in terms of overeas rights on New Zealand books and whether that might be recouped by a share in the world rights?

New Zealand authors will still primarily sign with New Zealand publishers, and New Zealand publishers will continue to sell New Zealand books to that relatively small percentage of the local population that thinks it’s important to support New Zealand authors, books and publishers. Removing territorial rights won’t fundamentally change the precarious state of these relationships one way or the other as far as I can see.

What the smart New Zealand publisher can do though is start selling ebooks and print-on-demand ready books anywhere they can find a market. Isn’t that a good possibility? And a little bit of success for a publisher is going to attract more authors wanting to piggy-back on it.

Maybe there’s a chance overseas publishers will dump stock on New Zealand, though that happens already, and New Zealand is such a small market – that may counter any increase. Typically too, dumped books are dross and not the sort of thing that many New Zealand publishers produce. (Side-note on non-dross parallel importing: here’s a project for someone with a connect at Unity Books – ask them where their yellow circle logo comes from.)

Martin Taylor defended territorial rights on Teleread last year, but it strikes me that he’s talking about a handful of local companies buying local rights and/or handling distribution deals. I’m not convinced that really encourages a local industry, certainly not one that’s focussed on developing authors and high-quality local content. I also suspect most of these ‘local’ companies are local branches of overseas publishers.

I’m optimistic that the end (and yes, I’m assuming the end will come) of territorial rights won’t mean the end of different prices in different markets. David Grigg, writing from Australia, complained that he couldn’t buy a US ebook. That was based on IP recognition: the website he tried to buy from knew where he was and refused the sale. In the same way a website will be able to recognise users coming from developing countries and price ebooks accordingly.

The inevitability of the end of territorial rights seems to have become fact. Consumers won’t and aren’t putting up with it, and it forms part of a traditional approach to the world that no longer really works. I seriously think that local New Zealand publishers can either avoid much impact as they’re not in the habit of selling overseas rights, or can benefit from retaining world rights and selling to new online markets.

Maybe I’m being naive – very happy to be rebuked!

Whose right’s right

If you went to the National Digital Forum last week you’d have had to sleep pretty deeply to miss the discussion on copyright, or more generally, rights in the online world. Whose rights matter most seemed to depend on what side of the fence you happen to sit (and there didn’t seem to be many with a foot on both sides). Was it a generational shift we noticed? Probably, but more worrying was a lack of ambition to understand what was happening on the other side.

It might have helped both sides to think more about how people are likely to use content and how many of the norms of academic attribution will persist. George Oates, in her presentation on Flickr Commons, demonstrated this aptly: in telling us how she identified a photo of the Hagia Sofia she clearly identified and acknowledged each source in the trail of her research. She knew her audience and used the right tools to give us confidence and comfort in her analysis.

Where norms of attribution persist, it’s precisely because the creator of a work or an idea and the person who re-uses it are talking to the same audience. Making content available for re-using is just helping more of that traditional academic conversation happen.

Where the norms don’t persist, it may not matter: maybe the content is being re-used to talk to an audience with which the academic tradition isn’t – or hasn’t been – interested. That the idea has spread is something the academic community should be interested in, regardless of how it’s been attributed. At some point down the line someone will make the connection between Work A and its unattributed derivatives, and close the loop by putting the creator of the derivative onto the creator of Work A.

It’s a simple conversation to imagine: “Hey, that idea you’re playing with? It’s a lot like what so-and-so talks about in her book such-and-such. Go read it.”

Ideas spread, but never so far that you can’t tell whose they are.